Madison County Historical Society


Mound Preservationist

Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. Kept Area Intact for Future Generations


 The house built by Frederick and Hula Bronnenberg still stands to the east of the Great Mound.  It is one of the oldest in Madison County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Recently restored in period correct detail, this centerpiece can be toured while visiting Mounds State Park.

Beautiful Mounds State Park in Anderson is a gift, in a way, from one of our earliest pioneers.  While Frederick Bronnenberg Jr., 1812-1901, was not the first to appreciate the mounds' importance, he was a most dedicated individual in preserving the ancient site for future generations.

The first written description of the mounds is a land report done in 1803 for the governor of the Northwest Territory.  The first record of the Great Mound, itself is found in 1821 in a federal land office survey.  The first map drawn of the earthworks was produced in 1878 for the state geologist.  The description accompanying this map stated:  "... the most unique and well-preserved earthworks in the state are on the banks of White River three miles from Anderson."  The main reason the earthworks were at that point untouched, intact, and not desecrated, is because Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. and his family owned the property through most of the 19th century.

  Bronnenberg Family Arrives

The large Bronnenberg family had arrived from Ohio to the sections west of Chesterfield in 1821, making this German family among the earliest of settlers in the entire county.  In the years following, Frederick Jr., his male siblings, and his father Frederick Sr. purchased hundreds of acres of land on both the south and north banks of White River.  Junior's property contained what is now Mounds State Park.

From the beginning of his ownership, Bronnenberg appreciated the site's antiquity and importance.  The earthworks were not plowed over, leveled for building, or re-purposed in any fashion;  the area was honored and kept intact.  During Frederick's lifetime, a fence was built around the Great Mound, and he allowed visitors to walk through the beautiful location.  In consequence, the mounds were thought of as a park even before that title became official.

While Frederick Bronnenberg knew nothing of the Hopewell/Adena cultures that produced the mounds around the time of Christ, he took pride in protecting "these mysterious places."  In the early 1840s, Frederick and his wife, Hulda Tree, chose to erect their two-story federal style brick home just to the east of the Great Mound and close to the trail (old Indiana 32) that led from Anderson into Chesterfield.  The bricks were made from the local clay, the foundation of limestone was quarried at the edge of nearby White River, and the house's interior woodwork was produced from tulip trees taken from the surrounding forest.  Here they raised their family, managed their farm and business enterprises and oversaw the mounds locale.  (See picture above)

The close proximity of the house to the ancient site proved to be fortuitous because during a night in 1853, there was an attempt by grave robbers to dig into part of the Great Mound and make off with any items and/or human remains.  The family discovered the intruders and chased them away before any serious damage was done.  Upon examining in the daylight the spot of the incursion, the Bronnenbergs discovered that the thieves had actually uncovered reddened clay pottery shards and human bones that had been charred by fire before burial centuries before.  All items were reburied, and no further criminal disturbances were recorded.

A few times in the late 19th century Frederick did allowed state officials to excavate in the mounds, they could do so only while he was present watching over operations.  They also had to agree to leave with him half of any artifacts discovered.  During one of these official digs in the 1880s, scientists chose to examine the top of the central hill of the Great Mound.  Once again reddened pottery clay and burned human bones were discovered.  These items would in the 20th century help researchers piece together some of the cultural conventions of the Hopewell/Adena peoples.

Property Sold

In the late 1890s, Frederick Bronnenberg's heirs sold the 60 acres that contained the mounds to the Indiana Union Traction Company.  This business built on the land an amusement park which contained among other things a roller coaster, row boats on the river, a merry-go-round, a roller skating rink, restaurants, a dance hall, and even at one point, hot air balloons.  From 1897 to 1929, Andersonians could take the traction company's interurban cars from the city to "Mounds Park" and enjoy the fun-making and thrills, and stroll among the mounds in nature's beauty.  Astonishingly, the Great Mound and most of the other ancient earthworks were not disturbed or changed during these amusement years.  Evidently, Bronnenberg's attitude of preservation had fostered a similar mindset in area residents and in the business.  The only exception to this principle was some damage done to one of the small earthworks during construction of a building.

The fun stopped for everyone, however, in 1929 with the stock market crash that brought on the Great Depression.  The traction company in early 1930 sold the mounds acreage to the Madison County Historical Society, which had been waiting for a chance to obtain the property in order to provide for the mounds' protection.  The Historical Society understood that the surest way to preserve the ancient site was to give it to the state.  The Society donated the land to the Indiana Department of Conservation that managed the state's parks then.  On October 7, 1930, Mounds State Park was officially established, "for the express purpose of the preservation of the mounds and earthworks within its boundaries."  Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. would be proud.

By Melody Hull, Secretary, Madison County Cemetery Commission 


 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|